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US details inquiries on Iraqi prisoner abuse

Army says 35 cases includes 2 slayings

WASHINGTON — Two Iraqi prisoners were killed by US soldiers last year and 20 other detainee deaths and assaults remain under criminal investigation in Iraq and Afghanistan, part of a total of 35 cases probed since December 2002 for possible misconduct by US troops in those two countries, Army officials reported yesterday.

The tally emerged on a day US military officials, struggling to contain growing outrage over the handling of detainees, insisted they had been quick to respond to allegations of abuse at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison. But General George Casey, the Army’s vice chief of staff, acknowledged that the actions there of military guards and interrogators had amounted to ‘‘a complete breakdown in discipline.’’

In other developments one week after the publication of devastating details of Iraqis suffering physical and sexual abuse at the hands of US soldiers:

  • The new commander of USrun prisons in Iraq, Major General Geoffrey Miller, said he would cut the number of Iraqis in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison to fewer than 2,000 from the current 3,800.

  • The military said it was ordering troops to use blindfolds instead of hoods and interrogators to get permission before depriving inmates of sleep — one of the most common techniques reported by freed Iraqis.

  • Iraq’s US-appointed human rights minister, Abdul-Basat al- Turki, said he had resigned to protest the alleged abuses, and the interior minister demanded that Iraqi officials be allowed to help run the prisons.

    At a Pentagon news conference,US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld offered public assurances that those responsible for the misconduct would be held accountable and announced a further widening of Pentagon investigations into the military’s treatment of detainees. He said he had ordered the Navy to look into operations at two prisons outside Iraq and Afghanistan holding terrorist suspects — the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the Naval Station Brig at Charleston, S.C.

    Rumsfeld appeared on the defensive as he was peppered with questions about why he and General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had taken days to read an internal Army investigation of conditions at Abu Ghraib prison. Pentagon leaders also faced a sharp rebuke from Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress who accused them of not having been forthcoming earlier about the problems at the prison.

    ‘‘We need to know why we weren’t told, what went on,’’ said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, after a closed-door briefing by Army officials to the Armed Services Committee.

    Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, Democrat of SouthDakota, complained that when Rumsfeld and other senior Pentagon officials came to Capitol Hill last week — hours before CBS’s ‘‘60 Minutes II’’ first aired photographs of Iraqi prisoners being physically abused and sexually humiliated — they neglected to mention the coming disclosure.

    ‘‘Why were we not told in classified briefing why this happened, and that it happened at all?’’ he said. ‘‘That is inexcusable, it’s an outrage.’’

    Of the 35 criminal investigations into specific cases of possible mistreatment of detainees launched by the Army in the past year-and-a-half, 25 have involved deaths and 10 resulted from allegations of assault, said Major General Donald Ryder, the Army’s provost marshal and head of the service’s Criminal Investigation Division. The large majority of the cases occurred in Iraq.

    Twelve of the deaths were attributed either to a natural cause, such as a heart attack or illness, or to undetermined factors because the bodies had been buried quickly by relatives. Investigations into 10 other deaths and into the 10 assault cases remain unresolved.

    The death of an Iraqi detainee who was shot last year trying to escape from the Abu Ghraib prison was declared a justifiable homicide.

    In the death of another detainee at another Iraqi prison, who was shot while assaulting a US soldier with rocks, the soldier was found guilty of using excessive force. He was demoted to private and discharged from the Army in place of a court-martial, an Army spokesman said.

    The CIA inspector general is investigating three deaths of detainees involving CIA interrogators. One took place at Abu Ghraib prison last November, and a second at another detention facility in Iraq, a CIA spokesman said yesterday.

    The third death, which an Army investigation refers to as a homicide, involves a CIA contract interrogator in Afghanistan.

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